My Lie: A True Story of False Memory, Meredith Mara

A hundred years from now, will the mass hysteria that gripped the nation in the 1980s and early 1990s regarding child sexual abuse and satanic rituals be remembered in the way the Salem Witch Trials of the 1600s are remembered? The insanity of McCarthyism in the 1950s that ruined countless lives? The craziness of today’s “birthers” who believe Obama was born in a foreign country despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

Boardwalk PhotoThis book is the story of a woman who accused her father of sexual abuse, and later came to the realization that she lied. It is also a long-overdue examination of the McMartin Preschool molestation case of the 1980s, the women’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and the phenomenon of “repressed memory.” Maran is an expert at weaving her own story into the “climate” of the time. She has the rare ability to both examine and ultimately to understand how she was influenced and shaped by these various forces. The book is a triumph in that she is able finally to learn the truth about herself and act on it.

The McMartin case epitomizes the insanity that consumed the nation. There is no reasonable answer as to why so many people came to believe devil worshipers had set up shop in day-care centers across America. That 87-year-old Virginia McMartin, confined to a wheelchair, sexually molested two-year-olds in Manhattan Beach, California. That children were taken into underground tunnels and photographed in the nude.

Had we lost our collective minds? Did anyone think to question stories about pre-school teachers cutting heads off horses? Children flushed down toilets to emerge in secret rooms where they were abused and tortured, then cleaned up and reunited with their parents? Teachers flying through the air like witches on broomsticks?

There is sweet joy in the role of the victim. People feel sorry for you. They want to do things to help you. Maran recognizes that. She realizes she was enticed into the victim role, and she played it to the hilt.

Yet the book suffers from a flaw that exists in many memoirs. If you sit down to write the story of your life, you focus so much on yourself, you forget there are other people. In this case, there is the collateral damage done to Maran’s immediate and extended family: father, mother, step-mother, brother, sister-in-law, their two children, her two children.

In the end, Maran is still primarily concerned with herself. If only she can tell her father she is sorry, before Alzheimer’s completely removes him from her, things will be okay. But the pain she inflicted is too deep, too lasting, too brutal. Being sorry can’t begin to give him back what she took from him.

3 Responses to My Lie: A True Story of False Memory, Meredith Mara

  1. Rick Romfh May 9, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    “. . . the story of a woman who accused her father of sexual abuse” and later realized that she lied. I’m confused. Was she a woman when she lied? Or was she a child pressured by authorities to lie during the McMartin fiasco? If she was a woman at the time she accused her father of sexual abouse, she should have known she was lying–at that time. But if she was a child at the time she accused her father, that would be a different matter.

    • Rita Bourke May 9, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

      She was married with children when she made the accusation. Her marriage was in trouble. She entered into a lesbian relationship with a woman who had also accused her father of sexual abuse (she accused her own father, not Maran’s.) When this woman began “recovering memories” of satanic rituals performed on her, Maran began to have doubts. I’m over-simplifying a bit; it was a crazy time in America.

  2. Meredith Maran May 17, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Dear Rita Bourke, thanks for your smart, insightful comments about MY LIE. Believe me, your critique is also a question with which I continue to grapple–and I’m happy to report that writing the book actually improved relationships with my dad and stepmother. Sometimes truth, even confused truth, does win out. And isn’t love the ultimate truth?

    Again, my thanks,
    Meredith Maran
    author, MY LIE

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